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Mitsubishi workers vote for Union representation

HOUSTON, TX ----On Thursday, May 9th, 2002, the workers at Mitsubishi
Caterpillar Forklift of America (MCFA), Houston plant voted in favor of Union
representation.  After 8 months of arduous work, the Sheet Metal Workers'
International Association - Houston Project have earned the right to
represent MCFA workers for the purposes of collective bargaining.

"The company ran a virulent campaign against the workers", said Linda
Morales, Lead organizer for the Sheet Metal workers.

 "It was a typical anti-worker campaign with non-stop, daily doses of fear,
intimidation and harassment.  The company, however; culminated its
anti-worker campaign with a 'give us another chance' plea for its finale,"
added Morales.

But apparently MCFA workers saw through the company propaganda and voted for
union representation.

The 435 unit of mostly male workers was ethnically diverse consisting of
Latinos, Vietnamese, Nigerians, Ethiopians, Jamaicans, Bosnians, Russians and

Mitsubishi Caterpillar Forklift of America is a privately held joint venture
company.  It is engaged in the manufacture and distribution of forklifts.

The National Labor Relations Board conducted the secret ballot union
election.  The official tally: SMWIA 210 and MCFA 198.


  May 22, 2002, 10:54PM

Sterling, Dow face disquiet

Expired contracts, terms worry unions


Employees at Dow Chemical and Sterling Chemicals in Texas City are working under an expired day-to-day contract and are becoming increasingly concerned about job security. A strike isn't imminent at either company as union leaders try to hammer out new contracts, but union-represented employees at Dow Chemical are concerned that contractors will replace them. And at Sterling, employees are trying to end a practice they agreed to four years ago that forces them to abandon their grievances once they sign a new contract. Dow's contract, which covers about 415 operators and maintenance employees in Texas City, expired April 1. While the company has offered wage increases, Jesse J. Sanchez, business manager of the Texas City Metal Trades Council, said Dow Chemical wants to replace with contractors all union-represented employees who quit or retire. Dow has long relied on contractors, Sanchez said, pointing out that of 8,000 area employees, half are contractors. And now Dow, which bought the plant from Union Carbide last year, is trying to do the same thing in Texas City. Dow apparently tried to get out of its union relationship another way when the federal government alleged it withdrew recognition from three unions at the plant and refused to bargain collectively and in good faith with the unions. In December, the National Labor Relations Board concluded that seven months after Dow Chemical bought the plant from Union Carbide, it illegally withdrew recognition of the Painters and Hangers Local Union 1008 as well as the Sheet Metal Workers International Association Local 54. A month later, Dow withdrew recognition of the Heat and Insulators Local 105. The NLRB set the complaint, which is scheduled to begin Tuesday, for a hearing before an administrative law judge. The Metal Trades Union also filed a charge last month against Dow contending that Dow engaged in unfair labor practices by hiring 19 contract workers to perform the work normally done by union employees. That charge has been referred to arbitration. A spokesman for Dow could not be reached for comment. At Sterling, the Metal Trades Union represents about 220 employees who have been working steadily since their contract expired May 1. At Sterling, employees agreed to a so-called "zipper clause" during negotiations four years ago. The employees agreed that any outstanding disputes, such as complaints to the National Labor Relations Board as well as grievances and disputes brought to arbitrations, will end on ratification of a new contract. But in the latest contract talks, members want to remove that zipper clause, said Sanchez, because they feel it takes away their rights. They see the company breaking labor laws and then the dispute evaporates when the next contract is approved, he said. He said the company has delayed several arbitration hearings for several months and he believes company officials are stalling so the issues will disappear when the next contract is signed. He said that the company is also offering low wage increases, ranging between 1 percent and 2.5 percent a year. Electricians, who earn $22.70 an hour, are among those slated for the higher raise. Sanchez said that the company wants to lower the hourly wage for operators who don't watch the control boards from $23 to $21 an hour. Mark Kahil, spokesman for Sterling Chemicals, said the company has never asked employees for a wage cut. He said the wage offer is win-win for both the company and union. He said it is Sterling's corporate policy not to negotiate with the union through the media.

Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle
  May 24, 2002, 10:05PM

Report urges revamp of job agency

Workforce Commission criticized


(Austin Bureau) AUSTIN -- The state agency charged with putting jobless Texans to work needs a leadership overhaul to avoid unnecessary confusion, costs and delays, according to a legislative report released Friday. The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission report suggested that the Texas Workforce Commission's three full-time commissioners be replaced by seven part-time ones. It said the current three commissioners create confusion by meddling in the staff's affairs rather than setting policy and letting the executive director run the agency. As a result, the lines of accountability become blurred, it said. Labor leaders, who have always complained that the agency is stacked against employee interests, are even more suspicious of changing to a part-time commission. They also strongly object to the report's recommendation to "clarify that employers are TWC's primary customer." The commission -- whose three leaders respectively represent employees, employers and the public -- has endured repeated criticism since its creation in 1995. In addition to processing unemployment claims, it has the sometimes controversial task of running welfare-to-work programs. "This sunset report fails to recognize that employees are an equally important constituency of the Workforce Commission," said Ed Sills, spokesman for the AFL-CIO in Texas. Workforce Commission Chairman Diane Rath, who is charged with representing the public, was not available for comment. Commissioner Ron Lehman, the employer representative, and Commissioner T.P. O'Mahoney, the employee representative, likewise did not return calls requesting comment on Friday. Workforce Commission spokeswoman Dede Webb said that, on a positive note, the report recommends the agency continue to exist for 12 more years, and says that it had made improvements and that its services are needed. She said the commission will file a response by June 1, but "it's kind of premature with the report coming out today to comment further about it." Gov. Rick Perry is also reviewing the report, but spokeswoman Kathy Walt said the governor's office found some of the findings surprising. She pointed out, however, that the report is written by the sunset commission's staff and hasn't been adopted by the full commission. "We find the recommendation that they go from a full-time to a part-time, seven-member commission a highly unusual structure," Walt said. She said it would be like in some respects saying the Public Utility Commission should have a part-time structure, Walt said. Patrick Bressette, who specializes in welfare-to-work issues at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, said he thinks the recommendation to change how the commission is governed is an appropriate one. "They make a good point about confusion on lines of authority," he said. "It's just not an efficient way to run a policy agency." Rick Levy, an attorney for the AFL-CIO, said he believes the problem at the commission is that it is too politicized. "I think the wrong direction it's taken isn't so much to do with the structure and the implementation, but rather the policy orientation of the commissioners," he said. "I think it's been shortsighted, often driven by ideology rather than substance."

Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle